How to support someone with an eating disorder
If someone close to you is being treated for ED you probably want to help – here’s how
After working as an Eating Disorder Dietitian for a number of years, there is one area that we don’t talk about enough. That is how to help caretakers, friends, and loved ones support someone with an eating disorder.
Witnessing anyone you care about struggle with an eating disorder can be heart breaking. You may feel that you don’t know what to say or maybe you worry that you will make it worse. So today I wanted to share a few tips to help get you started.
Top tips for supporting someone with an eating disorder:
1. Be compassionate
You have noticed that something is off with the person that you care about. You may have noticed their eating habits have changed, that they seem a bit muted or just not like themselves, or maybe you have even seen some physical signs that they are unwell.
Please don’t avoid saying something, however, do avoid commenting on their food or their body.
Try this: “You have seemed a bit down / off/ not yourself lately, I just want you to know that I am here if you want to talk about it”
2. Be Curious
Your loved one is the expert in how they want to be supported, so let them guide you. Eating disorders are about so much more than just the food. While you may never truly understand what your loved one is going through, you don’t have to, you just have to let them know that you are there for them and are open to hearing more about what they are going through without trying to fix it.
It is okay to ask someone to explain more about how they are feeling or if there are ways that you can support them. Remember, sometimes it is helpful to just be there to support someone with an eating disorder, whether they want to talk about it or not. Let them know that they are not alone in this.
3. Don’t try to debate with the eating disorder
When your loved one is battling to recover from an eating disorder, they very likely know what they “need” to do when it comes to food and food-related behaviours. If they don’t, help them build a team of experts around them to support them through this. Either way, trust that they are trying and doing their very best to recover. What may seem like a simple change or an easy step to you, could be very hard and anxiety producing for them.
As a support person, your job is not to teach. And to be honest, if the eating disorder is powerful that day, it could be very hard for that person to hear what you have to say anyways. So instead of trying to use logic to reason with the eating disorder, or asking them why, try to see that they are working hard and commend them for this. Acknowledge that you can see they are doing their best to battle this. Ask them if there is anything big or small you can do to help them. Also ask them if there is anything you wish people would NOT do or say as sometimes you will learn more from this question than anything.
4. Do not comment on their food, their body, your food, your body, or anyone else’s food or body.
Unless you loved one has specifically asked you to talk about food with them, try to take the conversation anywhere else. Topics can include the weather, a funny story from the day, something exciting you are looking forward to, or really, anything except food and body talk.
If you are struggling to support someone you care about who is struggling with an eating disorder, please, reach out to a Registered Dietitian, Counsellor, and/or Registered Psychologist who specializes in the area.
Looking for an Eating Disorder Dietitian that “gets it”? We can help.
If you are seeking support for an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, ARFID or disordered eating behavior we can help.
We have Eating Disorder Dietitians on our team that can help provide you with the confidential supportive care to meet you where you are at and work with you to progress recovery at a pace you can manage.
We also work collaboratively with your physician and therapist to ensure we are helping to move you forward with the right type of support needed to assist you.
Find out more about our Eating Disorder Dietitian services here.
Disordered Eating, Emotional Eating & Sports Nutrition
Fitness enthusiast and lover of all things food, Jana is passionate about helping her clients improve their relationship with food and their body. She is a strong, motivational leader. Jana also offers the balance of a warm, supportive coaching style to nudge her clients from their comfort zone while feeling safe and supported. She specializes in mental health, eating disorders, body image and sports nutrition.